The Value of Organizational Values

July 6, 2017

In personal relationships we tend to choose others who share our values—regardless of whether they are friends or romantic interests. This is because values help define who we are and what we stand for. When this is shared between yourself and another, it provides the foundation to maintain a solid relationship both can depend on.

In politics, Democrats and Republicans might make a lot more progress if they were to identify and build upon what values they share in common. Our representatives in congress should seek out and build upon what their constituents share in common with the constituents of other representatives in order to make progress. The process of differentiating oneself from one’s opponent may work well in campaigning, but it is detrimental to effective governing.

In any organization, values define what it stands for, how it makes decisions, conducts business and the type of people it seeks to attract—customers, partners and employees.

All too often I see an organization’s corporate values clearly displayed on a website, but not truly embraced in the way its people function. This is not only bad for the bottom line, it’s bad for attracting the right talent.

Core values should support the company’s vision and shape the culture. That’s because values are the very essence of a company’s identity, its principles and beliefs. These values should not be defined in haste nor should they be so generic or fluffy that they don’t really mean anything.

The best values are those that are unique and demonstrated so often that they are embodied rather than simply memorized.

Core values can be an important differentiator and build a more solid brand. They can:

  • Enable better decision-making with regard to partnerships, employee engagement, quality standards, customer satisfaction, etc. The more values are integrated into the decision-making process, the easier it is to make hard choices.
  • Educate partners and customers so they are able to invest in an organization that is aligned with their own values. Social media is building brand awareness like never before and, with so many options, today’s consumers will choose products and services from those companies who they can identify with most closely.
  • Help recruit the right employees because they can see that these corporate values are congruent with who they are as individuals. This alignment is becoming increasingly important as Millennials are seeking much more than a paycheck in their careers.

Placing an emphasis on core values will improve every aspect of business, but only if these values are meaningful, fully demonstrated and embraced by every employee. Make an effort to ensure your organization’s values are the right ones and that they are more than mere words on a website.

March for Workplace Health & Viability

April 20, 2017

The March for Science will be held in Washington, D.C. and more than 500 communities around the world on April 22, 2017. This coincides with Earth Day and it’s hard to believe that in the 21st Century there is even a need to demonstrate support for something so fundamental as the planet we live on and the very foundation of principles which have enabled us to thrive.

“Science should neither serve special interests nor be rejected based on personal convictions,” as stated on the organization’s website. “At its core, science is a tool for seeking answers. It can and should influence policy and guide our long-term decision-making.”

With the recent downfall of Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly due to the disclosure of a series of sexual harassment allegations against him, perhaps some of his viewers may be more skeptical of the moral superiority of popular talking heads such as him. Maybe they will rethink whether tuning in to hear one person’s opinions will lead them to the truth better than research-based proven scientific facts. As much as we may want easy answers to complex issues, they won’t come from any one pundit, commentator or so-called analyst.

We live at a time when we celebrate science fiction more than science. Although Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos series is making inroads, it’s the fictional Star Wars, The Avengers and The Hunger Games where people spend their hard earned money and precious leisure time. As a nation we honor the achievements of athletes, musicians and actors far more than we do those of scientists, mathematicians and physicists. And they are paid a lot more as a result.

The fact is we over value entertainment and under value education. No wonder so many children when asked what they want to be when they grow up no longer say a doctor or fireman, they say they want to be rich and they want to be famous.

Actor Jim Carrey once said: “I think everybody should get rich and famous, and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.”

In the workplace we see the effects of this focus on shortcuts and quick fixes in the form of growth at the expense of actual value. According to a 2013 McKinsey survey, more than half of corporate executives said they would pass on a viable project “if it would cause the company to even marginally miss its quarterly earnings target.” These leaders are so afraid of shareholders that they dismiss what they believe to be in the best long-term interests of the company’s profitability because they are measured simply quarter to quarter.

This is crazy, of course, and it is not sustainable. Douglas Rushkoff, author of Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus, says this is a tornado of technological improvements that has spun our economic model out of control and humanity as a whole is trapped by the consequences.

As an example, Rushkoff writes about robotic ad-viewing programs or bots that are now used by some unscrupulous companies to raise their pay-per-click advertising revenue. These bots are often run secretly on our computers in the form of malware and, as a result, advertisers were projected to lose $6.3 billion in pay-per-click fees to imaginary viewers in 2015.

The irony is that these malware robots watch ads that are monitored by automated tracking software tailoring every advertising message to suit the malbots’ automated habits inside this personalization of a feedback loop. No human eyeballs may ever see or respond to the ads. No value is created and yet billions of dollars are made.

While many corporations are focused on short-term growth and profitability at the expense of long-term and sustained value, their employees are contributing to this as well.

Employees contribute to this, when they seek to:

  • Accomplish individual objectives though they may be in conflict with the collective goals of the workgroup or company.
  • Look busy multitasking rather than move important things forward by taking on the challenges of critical thinking.
  • Efficiently empty our email inbox rather than doing what’s more important yet may not yield tangible results as quickly.
  • Ask for promotions based on how we match up to our colleagues rather than on our own competence and capability.
  • Simply follow along and remain “under the radar” rather than push back and risk retribution when we know better.
  • Respond to constant disruptions with the dopamine hit of “likes” on social media instead of staying focused on the laborious job-related task in front of us.

The workplace should be one where all workers seek to provide sustainable value. CEOs and employees should all be motivated and compensated for delivering products and services that meet or exceed customer expectations. Rather than focus on short-term profitability, the goal should be long-term value. In this scenario, shareholders will continue to receive their return on investment, yet over a longer period of time. Think Berkshire Hathaway rather than Facebook.

Our current economic model for publicly traded companies that demands quarterly profits at the expense of longer term viability may no longer be relevant. Instead, we need to focus on doing what’s right rather than what’s expedient.

And we cannot rely on pundits in the political or financial realms to provide us with quick and easy answers. Instead, we should seek the continually evolving, research-based, peer-reviewed nature of scientific experimentation to understand how to improve our workplace and our economy. March for science. March for truth. March for workplace health and viability.

Corporate Values and Goldman Sachs

March 14, 2012

Corporate values are often what attract and keep many of us at the fine companies we work for. They are above and beyond the paycheck that give our working lives meaning. Corporate values are what attracted Greg Smith to Goldman Sachs 12 years ago.

The values Smith describes at Goldman were “teamwork, integrity, a spirit of humility, and always doing right by our clients.” Beginning as a summer intern while at Stanford, he ultimately reached the position of head of United States equity derivatives business in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Smith recently left Goldman Sachs and wrote a scathing editorial in the New York Times as to why.

“I believe I have worked here long enough to understand the trajectory of its culture, its people and its identity,” writes Smith. “And I can honestly say that the environment now is as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it.”

“Leadership used to be about ideas,” he continues. “Setting an example and doing the right thing. Today, if you make enough money for the firm (and are not currently an ax murderer) you will be promoted into a position of influence.”

Goldman leaders immediately responded to this with an open letter to employees on their website. However, other than reporting that 89 percent of employees say the firm provides “exceptional service” to clients and that for the third consecutive year, the firm was the highest paid financial services company, I read no real challenge to the assertions Smith made regarding values and integrity in his opinion piece.

It reminds me of the importance of things that do not necessarily show up on financial quarterly reports and are therefore less likely to be reported in the mainstream press. Corporate values like integrity, teamwork and doing the right thing are what attract and keep the best employees and ultimately what wins and keeps customers.

Earlier in my career, I remember working for start-up software companies where customers were treated as the top priority and employees a close second. When some of these companies filed for an initial public offering, shareholders replaced employees in second place and, in some companies, were even prioritized over customers.

When short term profits take precedence over corporate values, a company is in great trouble. Trust and ethical behavior outweigh financial performance if not in the short term then certainly over the long run.

I have had an increasing number of clients during the past several years complaining about unethical behavior, lack of honesty and bullying by their immediate supervisor. This leads to a stressful work environment and a depreciation of corporate values.

The old adage that people join a company based on its reputation and leave because of a manager is truer than ever. When managers engage in unethical behavior, they damage not only their own careers and those around them, but also the entire company.

Earning and keeping customer trust takes a long time; losing it can happen overnight. Goldman Sachs is 143 years old and surely they won’t sacrifice that trust easily.

I am sure Smith’s assertions have some basis in fact, but with 30,000 employees I’m equally certain there are many contrary opinions.

Regardless, the lesson should be that respecting customers and employees should be paramount in any company. Maintaining corporate values that attract employees and customers should always be more important than higher short terms profits.

Character and Success

September 20, 2011

Can you succeed in your career and life if you haven’t first learned how to fail?

This is the prominent question in a recent New York Times Sunday Magazine article titled “What if the Secret to Success is Failure.”

The writer suggests character traits, including the ability to overcome failure, may be just as important, if not more so, than intellgence in order to graduate from college and succeed in a career and life.

A list of 24 character traits come from a book called “Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification,” by Martin Seligman, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania and Christopher Peterson, a psychology professor at the University of Michigan. The 800-page book is basically the “science of good character.”

Seligman and Peterson settled on 24 character strengths common to all cultures and eras after consulting works from Aristotle to Confucius, the Upanishads to the Torah, the Boy Scout Handbook to profiles of Pokémon characters. The list includes traits like love, humor, zest, bravery, citizenship, fairness, wisdom and integrity as well as things like social intelligence, kindness, self-regulation and gratitude.

Many would argue that character traits don’t belong in the classroom curriculum and that this should be the domain of parents and not teachers. Let’s face it, teachers have enough to handle at a time when American students academic scores are failing to keep pace with many students around the globe.

My own middle schooler is currently experiencing a great deal of anxiety over the increased demands sixth grade entails, and my wife and I can see that this anxiety is not strictly about the academics so much as the increased homework, internal pressure to do well, and the lack of mature coping skills.

And as difficult as it is for we as parents to watch our child struggle and possibly fail, it may be fundamentally important to her success that we do. We all know at some level that kids need a little hardship or challenge they can overcome in order to prove to themselves that they can do so. This may be the best—if not the only—way to build confidence in oneself.

So if overcoming failure and having certain character traits are so important to success, what does this say about the workplace? How often do these traits show up in a job description or are even mentioned during an interview?

A successful interviewer should certainly probe a candidate for a time when he or she failed at something, and then look for what was learned or how that experience led to improvement. If the candidate is unable to provide an example of failing, that alone should raise red flags.

Character traits are more difficult to uncover yet they can be ascertained through repeated interactions and requests for stories from previous work experiences as well as through detailed conversations with professional references. Ultimately, character traits may never be quantified enough to fully measure, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be looked for in a potential employee.

Many companies have a list of corporate values that include character traits that are consciously or unconsciously sought after in the people they hire. Knowing what these are and choosing to deliberately look for them in hiring should be emphasized.

What if your company looked for character traits like zest, grit, self-control, social intelligence, gratitude, optimism and curiosity in the people it hired? Would these be a good predictor of whether that employee succeeded or failed? I believe they would, but would love to know your thoughts.